Hi everyone. My name is Justin Boyan. I live with my family here in Providence. I’m a former NASA research scientist and senior engineer at Google, with a Ph.D. in statistical machine learning. More importantly, I’m a proud dad of two school-aged daughters.
I’m standing here giving a speech, which is not my favorite thing to do, because for anyone who is a scientist or a parent, this moment in history is incredibly scary. If you’re a scientist, you understand the physics of the huge global climate disaster that is just starting to unfold. And if you’re a parent, you look every day into the eyes of the children who will bear the brunt of that disaster. You realize the urgent need for climate action NOW, not just talk and studies and toothless targets for the future. The action we need, this year, is the Energize Act.
Let me introduce my kids. Carmen is a 7th grader at Nathan Bishop. In the summer, she loves to build elaborate sand castles at the beach. She collects shells, seaweed and other treasures and arranges them into cool art displays. She and her sister have also gone to Surf Camp four times, and are getting pretty skilled at catching the waves. The beach is a big part of growing up in Rhode Island, right? But for Carmen’s kids and grandkids, it may not be. If we keep burning gas for energy, blanketing the earth with carbon dioxide and methane, Rhode Island’s sea level is forecast to rise, this century, by 9.2 to 11.5 vertical feet. Every single beach — from Westerly to Little Compton — would be permanently submerged. Not just kids’ summer fun would be wiped out, but also tens of thousands of homes and businesses in communities like Newport, Bristol, Barrington, Warren, Warwick, Cranston, and downtown Providence. Storm-surge flooding will get them first, and later, total inundation. If we don’t act now, Carmen and her generation will literally have to abandon our most cherished places. It’s hard to wrap your head around. But it’s physics. We have to deal with it. We need the Energize Act, now.
This is Ella, a 9th-grader at Classical. Ella is also outdoorsy. Besides being a surfer, she is a rock-climber, a backpacker, and on the Providence teen cyclocross team. She’s kinda badass. Ella is mostly vegetarian, but has a serious weakness for fresh steamers. Seafood is another great part of our Rhode Island identity. Unfortunately, science. Our oceans are growing not only higher and hotter, but also more acidic, as carbon dioxide dissolves into the water. Oysters, clams, and scallops don’t like that. They grow more slowly, they get developmental abnormalities, their shells are thinner and more fragile, they die. If we want Ella and her generation to be able to keep on enjoying fresh local seafood like we do, if we want to save our marine ecosystems, if we want to save our fishing industry: we need the Energize Act, now.
I want to talk about one more kid, my friend Monica’s daughter, Alexandra. Alexandra is three. She suffers from asthma and recently had to be hospitalized. She is one of over 110,000 Rhode Islanders with asthma, one of the worst rates in the entire country. Many of those are kids like Alexandra, who live near pollution “hotspots” such as I-95 and the Providence industrial waterfront. Air pollution also causes lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease. We don’t need to get our energy this way. We can help every Rhode Islander switch to electric cars, which don’t have tailpipes. We can get 100% of our power from wind and solar with backup battery storage: no more smokestacks. It’s totally doable; Scotland and Sweden are nearly there already. For Alexandra’s health, and all our kids’ health, we need the Energize Act, now.
Some folks say, we understand the science, we know there has to be a nationwide energy transition, but why should little Rhode Island go first? Here’s why. First, as Kevin made clear, because home-grown energy will be a huge win for our economy. We don’t produce fossil fuels here; we send our money out of state to import fuel and burn it. We can keep that money here. Second, because of our kids’ health. Whatever other states do, the quicker we retire our gas cars and our gas power plants, the better we can breathe. And third, because we’re the Ocean State. Climate change is coming for us first. We should be proud, and eager, to go first, to model what other states also need to do in this time of crisis.
Rhode Islanders are ready for action on climate. I know this from my work with Resist Hate RI, an activist group that formed after the 2016 election. We now have over 8000 members across the state. Last month, we took a survey of our members’ priorities. Climate change was at or near the top of almost everyone’s list. A year of hurricanes, floods, fires, and bomb cyclones has woken people up. So enough with the talk, study commissions, and toothless targets. Let’s meet the challenge of climate change head-on, the way science says we must. Let’s protect our kids, and save our state for them. Let’s pass the Energize Act.